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The climate issue summarized in two points


vinterbild

[Denna text på svenska.]
The climate issue has, obviously, gained enormously in importance in the last 10-15 years. People panick because of the likelihood of an imminent disaster. Any questioning or criticism of the theories behind this notion av doom is labeled as denial, almost as heresy in the context of what is more and more starting to look lika a new religion or dogmatic ideology. Critical scrutiny is otherwise a cornerstone in science.

In recent years, we have experienced an increasing uniformity in research and social debate, which has rarely been seen before in democratic countries. How this situation has arisen is difficult to understand, if one does not give in to fairly dubious conspiracy theories.

The factual matter at hand could, however, with a seemingly drastic simplification, be summarized in two points (which, of course, could be much elaborated with extensive reasoning and nuances):


1. Any great danger due to human addition of CO2 in the atmosphere probably does not exist, as the evidence base for this is very weak and uncertain.


2. If the CO2 content in the atmosphere actually were to be a problem, it would still be impossible to alleviate this more than very marginally; those who think we could reach ”pre-industrial levels” of CO2 content in the atmosphere live in a dream world.

One could add another clause here, a question that has nothing to do with the definition of the alleged problem, but which still might be useful to consider:

If humans would succeed in reducing their contribution of CO2 to near zero, or at least to so-called pre-industrial levels, would the climate on earth then cease to change? Would the earth never again go through smaller or larger ice ages? Would no more warm periods occur, like the medieval warm period? Would influence from the sun in e.g. 11, 88, 210, 350 or 2,400 year cycles cease? Would the effects of the El Niño phenomenon or jet streams come to an end? Would we then have a completely static climate, constant through the centuries?


branson_twitter_small

Founder of Virgin company, Richard Branson, seems to dream of a world, where climate is constant and never changes. Tweet from Clean Choice Energy.


Those who answer yes to that question, have not realized that our climate always has changed, for millions of years, and that it certainly will change in the future as well. And furthermore, that carbon dioxide is not the only factor that can affect the climate. Water vapor, clouds, solar radiation etc. have a much greater impact than carbon dioxide.

Below, the two main points are explained somewhat further.

1. Any great danger due to human addition of CO2 in the atmosphere probably does not exist, as the evidence base for this is very weak and uncertain.

Most debaters (even so-called skeptics) are convinced that a certain warming of our earth is going on, probably as a recovery after the so-called little ice age, which occurred around 1400-1850. Most people also agree that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but how much it affects the Earth’s temperature and the extent to which the CO2 content in the atmosphere is a consequence of human activity is, however, debated and not scientifically ascertained.

The predictions of the future climate made by the UN Climate Panel (IPCC) are the result of computer simulations that are extremely uncertain, not to say impossible. Indeed, in its third report from 2001, the IPCC wrote:

In climate research and modelling, we should recognise that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible. (Third assessment report, Working group I, 2001, p. 774, my boldface / KET.)

It should perhaps be said that in a few other places in the report it is claimed that some predictions can still be made, e.g. the El Niño phenomenon is mentioned, which can be predicted a year in advance. But one year is not much, when we discuss climate change for hundreds of years.

Despite this insight, the IPCC has been trying to predict the future of the climate with the help of numerous computer simulations since 1990 – almost for 30 years. The predictions (or projections as the IPCC prefers to call them) have not come true, but rather it has become obvious that they were exaggerated by over three times when it comes to temperature levels in the troposphere, according to John Christy, professor of atmospheric science, who previously participated in the IPCC network (see this PDF, p. 13).

In their latest reports, the Fifth Assessment report from 2013/14 and the special report Global Warming of 1.5 °C, from the fall 2018, the IPCC have revised their view on so-called tipping points and irreversible processes (link to Google translation). There is now hardly any risk of such an outcome, except perhaps with regard to the addition of carbon dioxide and methane from melting permafrost.

The press often writes about increased risk of forest fires, droughts, storms, etc. The IPCC, however, have found that there is no evidence for this: ”In the present climate, individual extreme weather events cannot be unambiguously ascribed to climate change, since such events could have happened in an unchanged climate.” (Assessment report 5, p. 928.)

In the same report, p. 216, the IPCC write: ”Current data sets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century …”. Doerr and Santin wrote in a 2016 article published by the British Royal Society (”Global trends in wildfire and its impacts”) that ”there is increasing evidence that there is less fire in the global landscape today than centuries ago”.

Those who claim that we are facing a disaster would, of course, preferably argue that our current weather/climate is unique in history. But that is hardly the case. The world has been warmer than it is now, and this happened when the atmosphere content of CO2 was lower.

Increased CO2 content in the atmosphere is unlikely to affect the temperature as much as is often said in the press and among politicians. The degree of impact is called climate sensitivity, which means that doubling the CO2 content in the atmosphere can result in about one degree of warming. This occurred when we went from about 200 to about 400 ppm (parts per million) of CO2 in the atmosphere, which happened approx. in the last hundred years.

Maybe there will be a doubling again, over the next hundred years. Of course, it is not ceertain, since we may have completely different kinds of energy sources and methods for energy production at that time. But if there is a doubling, then the global average temperature will probably rise about one more degree.

So, is one (or one and a half) degree of increase in temperature something to be afraid of? Degree data usually do not refer to absolute temperatures (what you see on your thermometer) but to deviations from an average. (Often, the zero line in temperature charts is set according to the mean at different locations during the period 1961-90, when we’re dealing with recent times.)

The elevated temperature of a degree can hardly be much to worry about. After all, most countries experience temperature fluctuations of maybe 20-50 degrees between summer and winter. So, one or two degrees temperature difference should mean quite little in most locations. If the Swedish town of Gävle were to go from cultivation zone IV to Stockholm’s cultivation zone II in 50 years, would hardly constitute a major disaster.

Areas with extreme weather today (such as India), will probably be extreme also in a 100 years. Noone really knows if the weather then would become even more extreme; the greatest relative warming will probably occur on our latitudes and not in the tropics. This depends, among other things, on sea and air currents.

The fear that the masses of ice in Antarctica or Greenland would melt is in all likelihood exaggerated. These masses of ice are huge, with a thickness of several kilometers. The masses of ice have changed in the past, sometimes growing and sometimes shrinking. The IPCC stated in their report 2013/14 that the ice in Antarctica would hardly melt down due to global warming faster than in a thousand (or several thousand) years. A few researchers believe that a sufficient meltdown to make the sea level rise dramatically could happen in a few hundred years, but most scientists estimate that it would take thousands of years.

The question is also whether a rise in temperature might be beneficial in many parts of the world. An IPCC scientist wrote this in one of the leaked e-mails from the so-called Climategate scandal (here the IPCC’s fourth report is discussed):

… the panel text does not mention that some people (and countries) may experience benefits as a result of climate change. I think this needs to be mentioned somewhere … (Mike Hulme, professor of human geography in a mail February 5, 2002.)

It is easy to believe that the earth is getting very hot when you see maps with blue and red areas supposed to show what it will be like in a few decades. You think the blue is icy and the red is glowing hot. But the difference between the areas in these maps is usually no more than a few degrees.



1884_2018

Global temperature is often illustrated with maps like the above, with color codes. From the left image (1884) to the right (2018), the difference is about one degree in global average temperature. Locally, the difference can be 4-5 degrees. (Source: NASA.)


It is often said that certain years in the 2000s have been the hottest since measuring began in the late 1800s. However, this is misleading. Often, the very hot 1930s are ”forgotten”. And, it is almost never mentioned that the record may consist of as little a difference as 0.02 degrees above the previous record.

To the extent that some problems will arise in 50 or 100 years, this is probably something we can mitigate with dams, land reinforcements, fire breaks, etc.

SvD eldar och värmerekord 1933_10juli rev2

The 1930s were very hot. Here a clipping from Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet of July 10, 1933. The headlines to the left say ”Violent wildfires rage all over the country. Several hundred fire sites”. The headline to the right says ”All temperature records in Sweden beaten yesterday”. This record of 37-38 °C still stands today, according to the Swedish meteorological institute SMHI.

USA_1934_185000_forest_fires_1937

The Bend Bulletin in Oregon (left) reported July 25, 1936, that there were 12,183 deaths in the United States due to heat and drought during one week in July, compared with 8,851 dead at about the same time 1934. According to The New York Times (right) on October 9, 1938 there were 185,209 forest fires in 1937, one every three minutes.

2. If the CO2 content in the atmosphere actually were to be a problem, it would still be impossible to alleviate this more than very marginally; those who think we could reach ”pre-industrial levels” of CO2 content in the atmosphere live in a dream world.

A quite enormous amount of coal-fired power plants and other CO2-generating energy plants are presently being built all over the world. China is now building hundreds of new coal-fired power plants, and hundreds of coal-fired power plants are also being built in other countries, e.g. in Turkey, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Even such an environmentally ”aware” country as Germany invests in coal. Coal or oil are still the cheapest alternatives for energy production. Developing countries can hardly operate the steelworks they intend to build with fluctuating energy sources such as wind power or solar energy.

Let’s, for the sake of argument, suppose that Sweden would succeed in reducing its CO2 emissions to zero, then the world’s carbon dioxide emissions would (according to a very approximate estimate) decrease slightly – for about 23 days. After that, the levels would revert to the same concentration as before the Swedish CO2 stop and then continue to increase again.

If the United States, which is one of the largest emitters in the world (100 times more than Sweden approximately), right now would cut emissions to zero, then the world’s carbon dioxide emissions would decrease by around 14 percent but be the same again in just over eight years. [Note 1]

Mostly, I try to avoid the word emissions (additions are better) because you associate with air pollution. Carbon dioxide is not in the usual sense a pollution or a poison; carbon dioxide is a gas absolutely necessary for life on earth and we all breathe it out (almost 400 kg per person per year).

Getting the whole world to cut its carbon dioxide additions, perhaps not to zero but to what is usually called pre-industrial levels, is simply utopic. The result would be that our modern life would completely cease.

Today’s society, with its production, consumption and communication, is extremely energy intensive. The so-called carbon footprint from smartphones is today about a quarter of that from aviation, while the entire IT industry’s carbon dioxide addition is about twice that from aviation, according to doctor of technology Kari Hiekkanen (link to Google translation) at Aalto University in Finland. Watching streaming video is one of the most energy-intensive ways to utilize IT. The question is how many of today’s climate activists would like to live like a hundred years ago.

Furthermore, it is probably quite good to have a fairly high CO2 level. Vegetation thrives and deserts are getting smaller. Too low a CO2 level can cause problems. Plants risk dying if CO2 levels fall below 150 ppm.

Politicians who paint a catastrophic future, where the earth is basically devastated by fires and floods, literally play with fire. What if many of the young people who now ”school strike for the climate” think this is not enough, but resort to more militant methods. We know how animal rights activists can take action. Many of these young people are wondering (and rightly so to some extent) why the politicians are not doing more, if we are really facing a disaster. Of course, I can’t prove it, but I guess the answer is pretty simple. The politicians themselves do not believe in the horror picture they paint of the future, but they must follow the spirit of the time in order to go on as politicians.

It is believed that only scientists or politicians who receive money from some industry can have dubious motives for their conclusions and positions. But politicians have their own interests, often with great economic benefits in the form of wages, side assignments and pensions. So, surely they have reasons to keep up with the current, and perhaps even to reinforce it, as long as they appear concerned and resourceful.

_________________________________________________

Note 1) The calculations are based on the fact that the world’s emissions totaled 37,077 megatons of CO2 equivalents in 2017 (according to Wikipedia) and that Sweden then emitted about 51 megatons, while the United States emitted about 5,107 megatons. For a decade to come, the increase in CO2 emissions is expected to continue to be the average for 2000-2017, i.e. 2.16 percent (according to the Global Carbon Project). Setting Sweden’s emissions to zero would hardly have a significant impact on the global annual increase, but a zero setting of the US would probably change the percentage 2.16 to about 1.86 percent. All this, of course, is very approximate estimates. See these links: Wikipedia, Global Carbon Project (p. 9).

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